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European ‘Mega’ Heat Waves to Increase Next 40 Years, Study Says

Growing concentrations of greenhouse gases are expected to cause “more frequent, persistent and intense heat waves” in Europe like the one in Russia last year that killed thousands of people and scorched land, researchers said.

The probability of another “mega-heat wave” like the ones last year and in 2003 will increase by a factor of five to 10 over the next 40 years, according to a study published today in the journal Science, written by scientists led by David Barriopedro from the University of Lisbon in Portugal.

“We were surprised,” Erich Fischer, a researcher at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich and one of the study’s authors, said in an interview today. “We had thought it was an anomalous event.”

“Serious risks” of heat-related events over large areas will increase if no “adaptive strategies” are implemented, the authors wrote. Those strategies include telling people not to do sports during the hottest part of the day, caring for the elderly, warning farmers about drought and preparing hospitals for heat-related illness, Fischer said.

Heat waves in 2003 and 2010 broke 500-year-old records in some regions, the researchers said. The high temperatures in eastern Europe from late July through mid-August last year covered twice as much ground as the 2003 heat wave and temperatures deviated from the average to a much greater extent, Fischer said.

Last year’s heat wave led to 55,000 heat-related deaths in Russia, wildfires and a crop failure of 25 percent, according to the study. The magnitude was “so extreme” that the chances of another one on that level in the same region remains fairly unlikely until the second half of the century, researchers said.

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